Israeli Military overseeing further construction outside Kalandia Checkpoint
Traveling between Ramallah and Jerusalem used to be a relatively easy trip, despite the various demarcations and borders the two cities contained, both within and between them. Things have changed of course, both quickly and drastically. What only a few years ago was a temporary “flying” checkpoint near Kalandia Refugee Camp, would then be converted into a more fixed checkpoint; ultimately it would evolve into it’s present form, a monstrous Terminal/Wall infrastructure complex. And the process continues; everyday that I pass through there, something new is built or added, complete with Palestinian laborers working in the shadow of Caterpillar bulldozers, while being watched over by heavily armed Israeli security guards.
With the physical landscape being so irrevocably redefined and reconstructed by the occupation, I want to describe my most recent passage through Kalandia. Partly, I am doing this as I prepare to leave Palestine, and not knowing when I may be able to return. Of the many things that frighten me, one is this; simply how much will change and be changed while I am away? How do you look forward to returning somewhere if your can’t even recognize it when you get there?
When I first used Kalandia checkpoint, in 2003-2004, it was a checkpoint much like Huwarra near Nablus; people were being harrassed by the IOF whenever I passed through, mostly by being questioned as to their IDs and permits. It’s hard to describe the experience of waiting on line with 50 or more Palestinians, waiting to have your ID checked, while a 20 year old Israeli soldier is standing in front of you, pointing his rifle at you, looking at everyone like they are no better than the dirt on his boots.
Back in January, a soldier was killed at Kalandia, stabbed by a Palestinian while passing through what at that time had evolved into a labyrinth of concrete, metal sheeting, razor wire and Israeli soldiers. For the next week or two, the process there, which was already humiliating, violent and painfully slow became even more so. I remember passing in the opposite direction on the way to Ramallah, and seeing the new changes; even longer lines, and when one approaches the soldiers to show your ID, there were at least 5 other soldiers standing to the side, their rifles drawn and pointing straight at you, ready to shoot at a moment’s notice.
Then, the sparkling new ‘Terminal’ was opened. Paid for by US aid to the Palestinian Authority, it is truly a triumph of sarcasm and sadism, all rolled into one (and by the way, didn’t a certain Central European regime build a wall in Warsaw and charge the people they were building it around for it’s construction?). Now, the IOF can hide in their protected little bomb and bullet-proof cubicles, scream orders and insults in Hebrew through a microphone, make people wait as long as they like, while never having to so much as breath the same air as the Palestinians passing through the terminal.
Outside the checkpoint there used to be a sign that read “THE HOPE OF US ALL,” although it wasn’t entirely clear whose hopes and for what they were referring to; pretty soon a group of activists from Jews Against Genocide covered it in graffiti, writing “ARBEIT MACH FREI” a few times over it. Soon, after, the sign was removed… but alas, the checkpoint remains.
The last time I was there, I was not very happy to see a really, really long line to get into the checkpoint. Usually, I haven’t had to wait too long, as the soldiers have never seemed too concerned about my being there; at the most, I might have my visa checked, but that’s about it (and sometimes not even that much). To make matters worse, I was pretty tired too, and a bit stressed about my leaving so soon; the last thing I wanted to deal with while on my way to seeing friends in Hebron was a long wait at Kalandia but I didn’t seem to have much choice. So, I got into the slowly moving mass of people, and soon I was in a sea of Palestinian men, from about 25 to 40 years old; there was a way to pass for the young & old & women, but I just couldn’t get the guts to flaunt my privilege and use it.
Inside the nearby control room was a female Israeli soldier, and she was shouting commands in Hebrew every minutes or so, as she controlled how long the revolving metal-bar doors in front of us would be open for (complete with green and red lights, for our convenience!). Now, most of the men seemed to be taking the situation with the usual coping method of laughing at it; personally, I started fantasizing about how many screwdrivers it would take to dismantle the place while we were waiting, but that’s just me. They would cover the speaker with their hand, mimic her voice, and stay pretty relaxed, all things considered, but for all these men to be talked to like they are children by this young woman was certainly yet another method of humiliation by the IOF. And then there was the challenge to her authority; whereas she would be insisting that only one person go through the revolving door at a time, the men would be squeezing anywhere from 2 to 4 people through at a time; she would say “wahadi wahadi,” (one by one) and they would say (and do) in response, “arba a arba” (four by four).
This went on for a bit, until I got within range to squeeze in, but I had some difficulty; my backpack kept getting stuck, and people would jump out ahead of me each and every time. I finally got into position along with 2 other guys, with my backpack on my head, and we waited for the light to turn green. But, then something unexpected happened. Next to the revolving doors that we were using, there were to regular doors, and two men selling sunglasses were working out passage through, as their merchandise wouldn’t fit through the revolving doors. So, she opens the other doors, and what happens? Yes, everyone starts pouring through, including me; hell, I had already spent an hour there, and this was just the first door to get through!
At this point, more than 100 of us had gotten through, but there was still the actual checking of the permits & bags still to be done. I walked about, trying to find a line that was shorter, going faster, something, but, nothing! I even tried to slip into the women’s line, but the soldier said on the speaker that I needed to go to the men’s lines. So, standing there, I resigned myself to getting to Jerusalem much later than I expected, if at all. But out of the corner of my eye, I notice that the station to my left was just starting to let people in, so I make a move… along with 50 other people! But I get a jump on most of them, push my way into the revolving door, and then it slams shut, I get the red light!
Welcome to Kalandia Checkpoint
But now I’m mad, I’m tired, and I just don’t understand why these soldiers, these boys, see the need to toy with us all like this? Is this ‘security?’.
So I yell at the soldier I see behind the window, “What the hell are you doing to us? Will you let us through for Christ’s sake?”
The soldier behind the glass window sees me, and of course hears and sees my frustration, so what does he do? He responds to me in Hebrew, saying who the hell knows what!
So I tell him ” I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU ARE SAYING!!!! Will you just let us through?!?”
And then, miraculously, he does! About 10 of us get into the main chamber, put our bags through the scanner, walk through the metal detector… as an afterthought I show my passport, but they don’t even ask to see the visa or ask me anything.
And after passing through another set of the same revolving iron bar doors, I was out, the whole ordeal only taking 1 and a half hours. It could have been much worse, and I did get through eventually, but just what was it that I had been through? According to the Israeli government, I had passed through the newest and most efficient checkpoint that was to provide ‘security’ and would be ‘The Hope of Us All.” As far as I am concerned, I had passed through a place that, despite the aesthetic changes, had not changed at all. It is still a place that by its very existence, miles within the Occupied West Bank, serves only to humiliate, control, and do violence to the lives of Palestinians. It is a constant reminder to Palestinians that they are the ghettoized slaves and serfs of the land, and that the Israeli boys with guns, whether up close and personal or behind blast-proof glass, have all the power in the world; it is, in other words, the true meaning of ‘security,’ which will never result in anyone’s security.